Answering The 10 Count: Tortured Ambition: The Story of Herb Abrams and the UWF Author Jonathan Plombon

Brian Damage

The story of Herb Abrams and his UWF promotion is an extremely dark and fascinating one. It was featured on The Dark Side of the Ring and even we did a story on the subject a few years ago. There is now a book out about the wild and crazy days of Abrams and the UWF called ‘Tortured Ambition: The Story of Herb Abrams and the UWF.’ The author Jonathan Plombon was gracious enough to chat a little about the book with us and take a look into the darkness of the subjects and the journey in writing about it.

What made you choose Herb Abrams and the UWF as a subject for the book? Were you a fan of pro wrestling?

I grew up watching pro wrestling. Since I’m from Minnesota, my earliest exposure was probably AWA. However, my earliest memories are from the WWF. Hulk Hogan was favorite then and Hogan is my favorite now. With that said, I became much more of WCW guy than a WWF fan in the early ‘90s.

It was during that era that I became much more aware of other promotions thanks to Bill Apter mags like Pro Wrestling Illustrated. That’s when I found the UWF on one of my cable channels. I loved seeing wrestlers that I couldn’t see anywhere else like Sunny Beach, Cactus Jack, Bam Bam Bigelow, and Ivan Koloff.

I stopped watching wrestling around 1993, but became a fan again in 1996 thanks to my cousin. He was really into WCW Nitro.

The UWF stuck with me, mainly because I could remember all the odd places that they ran TV tapings in. When I got the Internet in 1999/2000 (my family was late to the game), I started researching all the old promotions I watched. That’s when I came across all the Herb Abrams stories.

I wanted to write a book about wrestling, but I didn’t want to start with Herb Abrams because I feared it would be too difficult due to my inexperience. Nonetheless, after much thought, I realized that it was the only book I wanted to write.

I wanted to see Abrams as a whole person. I wanted to humanize him.

I read that you have suffered from depression and anxiety and writing this book helped you cope. What is it about writing that made your life livable every day?

It’s weird to think that the book helped me cope, because it added to the stress of my everyday life. The main source of the depression and anxiety was not the book (at the start anyway). It had to do with a number of unresolved issues from my childhood as well as severed relationship with individual.

In that way, the book gave me something else to worry about. Instead of always ruminating about my past problems, I began constantly ruminating about the issues with the book. Not that I had dealt with the depression. I still had it and it sometimes prevented me from working on the book, which is one of the reasons it took so long to complete it.

What was something in your research that shocked and/or surprised you about Abrams and the UWF?

That Abrams actually paid the wrestlers and paid them well. Now, there are times when Abrams didn’t pay the wrestlers, such as the incident with Bill Anderson and then later with The Blackjack Brawl, but Abrams wanted the wrestlers to like him so much that he wasn’t willing to jeopardize their friendship. Did this lead to some wrestlers taking advantage of Abrams? Yes. There were wrestlers who pretended to be Abrams’ friend just so he could pay for a night on the town or to get a bigger check.

Abrams, though, did screw over many of the production people, which is why some of the shows, especially those in the post-SportsChannel days, don’t look particularly impressive.

That’s one of the major misconceptions that is still brought up a lot.

What kind of feedback if any have you received from the Abrams family regarding Tortured Ambition?

David Sigman was a distant cousin on Abrams’ and he was a huge cheerleader for the project. He was always encouraging. He was the one who got me the information about Abrams’ childhood. He passed away last year, before the book could be released.

I only contacted David and he gave me the information. I didn’t reach out to anyone else in the family, because I thought that they didn’t want to be associated with the book. I later found out that many of them didn’t even know the book was being written. Not reaching out to more family members is one of many regrets that I have about the book.

I’ve had less enthusiastic reaction from the rest of Abrams’ family like when some of them threatened lawsuits. Some tried to send me constructive criticism, but I interpreted it as more of an attack. That was my fault and I hope I can learn from it.

Who would you say was the most interesting subject other than Abrams in your book?

It’s hard to choose just one. There were so many individuals who were captivating, so much so that I probably used too much space in the book to describe their stories. Some of these people, like “Chief” Jay Strongbow and Dave Perry, haven’t had a lot of attention given to them. No one has heard their stories. The referee Larry Sampson was another one who hadn’t had a chance to tell his side of the story.

Steve Ray was really open and forthcoming about everything. Nothing was off limits. He admitted to his mistakes, but also took credit for what he did right. His friendship with Herb Abrams was unique.

In terms of ideas in the book, I thought the analysis of the term “mark” was something that I enjoyed writing. I’ve had those theories for years and I thought it went well with the story of Herb Abrams.

You mentioned that you were considering a book about Bam Bam Bigelow, would you ever consider that project in the future?

The Bigelow book will probably never happen. The idea doesn’t strike me like it did back then. Never say never, especially when it comes to anything wrestling-related, but it’s not something that I’m interested in taking on at this moment.

I have an idea for a book that I think would be compelling, but I think it’s a little too controversial. I’m afraid to say what it is, because I fear there would be some pushback. I’m not willing to risk what little of a career I have, either. It’s just not worth it.

There’s a lot to consider when thinking about a subject for a book. Is there enough material for an entire book? How accessible is the information I need? How accessible are the interview subjects? All of these play a factor.

I’ve had great ideas that I had to give up on just because it wasn’t realistic. Then again, writing a book about Herb Abrams didn’t seem realistic at one time…

I’ve been toying around with the idea of a book about IWCCW, but there’s just so much about the promotion that I don’t know.

I want to sincerely thank Jonathan Plombon for taking time out of his very busy schedule to chat a little about the book and his experiences writing about it. I urge the readers of this blog to go out and purchase the book wherever books are sold.

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